Saturday, April 21, 2018

Big Scene, Small Page

4/19/18 6th & Lenora sketched in a 5 1/2" x 7" Field Notes notebook spread

Whenever I’m in the South Lake Union area, it’s hard to resist the Amazon Spheres. I’ve sketched them inside and out several times, but I’m still not tired of them.

A few days ago I met Gabi Campanario for a working lunch (we’re both members of the USk Editorial Team) by the spheres. After the meeting I stood near the same spot where I sketched this scene while taking Gabi’s Pocket Urban Sketching workshop last year. Before then, I’d always had difficulty viewing a vast scene like this and fitting it all onto a small page. A couple of simple yet important tips – such as using the vertical line of a building as a measuring unit to gauge the rest of the composition – made the task far less intimidating. I still use those tips every time I am faced with a scene like this.

Sunshine at the Spheres!

Friday, April 20, 2018

Vintage Colored Pencils, Part 11: Rexel Cumberland Derwent

Vintage Rexel Cumberland Derwent pencils

In the first chapter of The Pencil Perfect, author Caroline Weaver talks about the discovery of graphite in the 16th century in England’s Lake District. Though numerous pencil manufacturing companies were in the area at one time, the only one still remaining is Derwent. The company even has a museum for pencil aficionados – The Derwent Pencil Museum in Keswick – which is home to the world’s largest colored pencil (26 feet long)! Derwent obviously has a long, proud history in pencil production.

According to Wikipedia, the company we now know as Derwent began in 1832 under the name Banks, Son & Co. The company was eventually purchased by Acco UK (known then as Rexel) and became a brand of their product range. This company would pass through several hands before becoming the Cumberland Pencil Company in 1916.

A huge, lovely set of vintage Rexel Cumberland Derwent pencils recently came my way  a generous gift from someone who knows that I eat and breathe colored pencils. I contacted Derwent to see if I could learn approximately how old my set is, but I didn’t get a response. But I found at least three versions of branding in the hefty collection.

3 styles of branding

Interestingly, one is Derwent Artist, which is still the name of a Derwent pencil line, but the contemporary Derwent Artist pencils I have tried are much harder than these.

Derwent's contemporary Procolour
Compared to Derwent’s vast range of contemporary colored pencil lines, these Rexel Cumberland pencils have a very different appearance. For example, the contemporary Inktense, ColourSoft and Procolour (at right) lines all have a solid-colored round barrel with only the end caps indicating the core’s color. This design is consistent with all of Derwent’s current collections. On the vintage Rexel Cumberland pencils, however, the full length of the round barrel matches the core’s color, and the end is unfinished. It looks very similar to Prismacolor’s long-standing design.
Unfinished ends on the Cumberland Derwent
Enough about design; we all know that the most important aspect of any pencil is its core. When I initially swatched these, I was astounded by how deliciously soft and creamy they are. They are probably as soft as any colored pencils I own, including Caran d’Ache Luminance and vintage Berol Prismacolors. In fact, I’d say they are most similar to my old Prismacolors in softness, application and even appearance.

My curiosity immediately led me to trying to figure out which contemporary Derwent line was the successor to these very soft Cumberlands. ColourSoft and Derwent’s newest Procolour line were the likeliest candidates. They all have a 4mm core. ColourSofts feel slightly drier than the Cumberlands and also produce more dust. The Cumberlands are close to Procolour in softness – perhaps even slightly softer and with a creamier texture.

(An aside: I’ve long been flabbergasted by the number of colored pencil lines Derwent currently has in production – I counted 10 on Blick’s site. Procolour, ColourSoft and the limited-color-range Drawing line all are close enough in performance that only a geek making side-by-side comparisons on a rainy afternoon would be able to distinguish them. I’m not complaining, mind you – more for geeks like me to ponder – but it’s perplexing, nonetheless. Next time I’m in the UK, I must make a pilgrimage to that Derwent museum and discuss these questions with them myself.)
4/1/18 Cumberland Derwent pencils in Stillman & Birn Epsilon sketchbook 
For my apple sketch, I used a smooth Stillman & Birn Epsilon sketchbook. As I expected from initial swatches, the Cumberlands blend beautifully, and it’s easy to build up layers of rich color. They are the kind of pencils I like to use at life drawing, so I grabbed several and took them to Gage a few days ago, where I used them on all the 10-minute and longer poses.

I don’t know how long these Cumberlands have been out of production, but despite the number of similar pencil lines the company now makes, none of them is exactly the same as these. Thanks, Ana – I’m very happy to have and use them.

A spring bouquet!

Thursday, April 19, 2018

New Construction

4/18/18 New house in Maple Leaf

A new house is under construction a block away from mine. This is the same construction site where I sketched an excavator a couple of months ago. My plan was to sketch more of the various types of heavy equipment I’ve seen on the property the past several months, but most of that occurred during our long stretch of cold and rain, and parking wasn’t allowed nearby, so I missed all of that.

Yesterday it finally warmed up a bit, so I took advantage of the dry day to sketch the site. I’ll reserve final opinion until the house is completed. For now, let’s just say that based on what I can see of this elevation, the house doesn’t quite fit the rest of the neighborhood.

But how would you know? Other than The Maple Bar and Reckless Video, both neighborhood businesses occupying traditional houses, I’ve hardly sketched any houses in my ‘hood. I suppose familiarity breeds contempt or at least invisibility, because I don’t really “see” the houses I pass every day (or for that matter, the one I live in). I’m going to remedy that. Now that it’s finally feeling more like spring, I’m going to start sketching some of the homes that are what I consider typical and traditional of this area. Perhaps by then this new house will be done, and you can decide for yourself whether it belongs in Maple Leaf.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Training for Lightning Sketches

4/17/18 1-min. poses

Yesterday when I wrote about lightning sketches, I totally forgot to mention one of the best ways to train for them: life drawing.

My primary motivation for going to figure drawing sessions is that the regular practice strengthens my eye and hand for human gestures and proportions, which is very helpful when I’m sketching people “in real life.” Of course, drawing a posed model who is absolutely still for one to 20 minutes is a total luxury compared to drawing “real” people, who tend not to hold poses at all (unless they’re busily preoccupied with their devices). I think the greater benefit, though, in terms of teaching me to sketch faster, is that I become more adept at gauging how much of a sketch I can do in a given amount of time.

Shown here are a few sketches done from one-minute poses (above) and two others from two-minute poses (below). There’s not much difference in the amount of detail I included, yet I used the full length of time in each case. During the one-minute poses, I’m moving my hand and arm as fast as possible and sometimes I don’t get all of the model’s limbs, but I at least try to complete the gesture so that it’s clear what the model was doing. During the two-minute poses, I’m doing the same thing, but I can move my hand and arm a little more slowly, hopefully gaining a bit more accuracy in proportions. With two minutes, I am able to get all the limbs in, and the gesture is always complete. They don’t look very different, but from regular practice, I have trained myself to know how much slower I can draw (twice as slow!) when I have two whole minutes compared to one. I also always choose a brush pen for these very short poses because a liquid medium is easier to move quickly compared to a dry one.

4/17/18 2-min. poses

Shown below are sketches made from 10-minute and 20-minute poses. With these time lengths, I can choose a slower medium (colored pencil), put in a bit more detail, and define the forms more completely through shading and highlights. In both poses, I used the full amount of time for each, so I should be training myself to know how much of a sketch I can make in those time spans. But am I?

4/17/18 10-min. pose
4/17/18 20-min. pose
Having 20 minutes is downright leisurely, both at life drawing and in “real life” drawing, and lately I have developed the bad habit of overworking a 20-minute sketch beginning around the time a 10-minute one would have ended. A 10-minute pose seems to be my sweet spot for capturing proportion, gesture and form. I could just stop after 10 minutes and start a new sketch to fill the time slot. But Id rather learn how to make a stronger 20-minute drawing.

Today’s insight: Maybe I’ve gotten so good at sketching at lightning speed that I dont know how to sketch more slowly! This is definitely something to work on.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

More Reasons for Lightning Sketches

4/12/18 Mercedes in the post office parking lot

Several years ago I posted about the necessity of making “lightning sketches” when sightseeing with people who aren’t sketchers. I don’t want to keep companions waiting, so I’ve figured out strategies for sketching very quickly. Keeping materials, compositions and subject matter simple is a primary strategy, but just as important is adjusting one’s expectations and, when possible, planning for potential opportunities.

Recently I started thinking about all the many day-to-day situations (or to look at it a different way, opportunities) in which lightning sketches are necessary – not just when I’m with others whom I don’t want to keep waiting. When I think my subject matter may depart (people, animals, cars) or change (natural light, weather conditions) at any moment; when I’m due somewhere and have only a moment or two to spare; when I’m waiting for something else to happen, and once it happens, my sketch time is over. These types of situations happen way more often than having a leisurely few hours to spend as long as I like on a sketch.

One day last week was filled with opportunities like that. First, I went to the post office, and I had only a few minutes before I needed to run the next errand, but I thought I’d sketch a car in the parking lot. When I arrived, I backed into my space (planning) so that I’d be facing toward other cars when I finished my postal business. I knew the driver of the Mercedes would return from the P.O. quickly (indeed, he did – immediately after I finished).
4/12/18 Space Needle
Right after my errands, we were destined to see an exhibit at the Museum of History and Industry. The show was almost all photography, so I figured I wouldn’t have much to draw in there, but I wanted to find a way to squeeze in a sketch or two. The first opportunity came right after we’d ordered lunch in the museum’s cafĂ©. It doesn’t take long to grill a couple of sandwiches (and you know me – I can’t sketch if I’m hungry and food is on the table!), so I didn’t have much time, but it was enough to capture the Space Needle (still looking top-heavy due to its remodeling, which has grown tiresome to a native like me) through the window. As soon as the sandwiches arrived, I decided I was done.

Before we left the museum, Greg stopped in the men’s room, so I looked around nearby. I’ve made leisurely sketches of the bright pink Lincoln Toe Truck on multiple visits to MOHAI, so it wasn’t new to me, but it’s always a favorite. Again in my pocket-size Field Notes, I lightning-sketched that giant mobile foot and even had time to scribble on some pink by the time Greg was ready.
4/12/18 Lincoln Toe Truck, MOHAI

One of my favorite ways to flex my lightning-sketching muscles is watching the view out our kitchen window. Our bird feeder has been endlessly entertaining as well as endlessly useful in training my eye, hand and visual memory. Unlike the others (which took, literally, a few minutes each to complete), the sketches of birds shown below took quite a bit longer in total duration – each was completed over the course of several days – but I’d guess that the total amount of time spent on each sketch was still only a few minutes. These finches would give me a few seconds at a time, so I’d grab whatever gesture I could, from sight and from memory. The next time I saw the same bird (or another just like it), I’d correct the gesture or add more detail.

I remember when I first started sketching more than six years ago, I marveled at how quickly other sketchers seemed to work and wondered whether I would ever be as fast as they are. Over time, I have gotten faster and faster, although I don’t know how I’ve developed this skill other than through regular practice. When I have time, I enjoy working on a compelling subject, a more complex composition or more details, but I like having the choice of being quick if I need to. Regardless of subject matter or the reasons for being fast, my lightning-sketching skills are useful and worth continual honing.

4/4 through 4/12/18 finches at our feeder

Monday, April 16, 2018

Westlake Station and the Monorail

4/15/18 Westlake Station platform level

Westlake Station, in the middle of downtown Seattle’s retail corridor, is also the hub of the city’s public transportation system. You can catch buses and light rail trains from this station. You can walk over to Westlake Center and hop on the Monorail. Or you can just stay and shop.

Despite all that is going on there, it took me a long time to find a composition I wanted to sketch. Maybe I was just feeling picky, but everything inside the station seemed too dark, too plain, too fancy or just too difficult. I started questioning why we picked this location for a USk Seattle outing! Finally I leaned over every railing that looked down on the platform level to find a view where two women were waiting for the train.

4/15/18 Fifth and Pine

After wandering around the station a bit longer, uninspired, I zipped up my jacket (thankfully I wore my down) and went out to the street. Lending light but not much warmth, the sun appeared occasionally. On the corner of Fifth and Pine, I found a street scene I wanted to capture: The Monorail and the round twin towers of the Westin Hotel (plus a lot of scaffolding that seems to be marring much of the view in this area). With all the buildings that have been popping up (as well as torn down) over the past decade and especially the last few years, at least those two icons haven’t changed much since I was a kid. This is the kind of scene I would be attracted to if I were a visitor here, yet I take it for granted because it’s familiar.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Jane’s Workshop Captures People at the MarketFront

4/14/18 Kay focuses on people, not the pig, in Jane's workshop.

On a drizzly morning mobbed with the usual Saturday crowds, the Pike Place Market’s MarketFront sheltered Jane Wingfield’s 10x10 USk workshop students as they sketched people “inside-out.” Eavesdropping on Jane’s lessons and demos as I snapped photos and sketched her students, I found myself almost unconsciously following her principles: Focusing on essential lines of action and drawing in a fluid manner to capture gestures and movements.

4/14/18 Jane and her students hard at work.
An interesting and useful exercise Jane used was to hold a pose (see photo below) for several seconds as students sketched her. When she no longer held the pose, they were to continue finishing the drawing from memory – an essential skill to develop when sketching anything that moves constantly (I try to do this frequently with people as well as animals). She told me later that she gives her students this exercise because most people in public places like the Market are not making a wide variety of poses other than milling about or standing.

4/14/18 Queued up for piroshky

Stopping for a quick bite at Michou Deli, I grabbed a stool at the windows looking directly out onto the sidewalk, where a long line of people waited their turn at Piroshky, Piroshky. Queuing people usually aren’t very active, but I still tried to capture their individuality by focusing on their posture. If you observe closely, there’s a line of action (or inaction) even when people are doing nothing but standing.

Jane holds a pose for a few seconds so that her students
can keep it in memory and continue drawing after the pose is gone.
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